Rotavirus disease kills around nearly half a million children under 5 every year, and almost all these deaths are in developing countries (details here). So the paper in The Lancet (11 April 2008) “Efficacy and safety of an oral live attenuated human rotavirus vaccine against rotavirus gastroenteritis during the first 2 years of life in Latin American infants: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase III study” is very good news. The authors “aimed to assess the 2-year efficacy and safety of an oral live attenuated human rotavirus vaccine for prevention of severe gastroenteritis in infants” and their conclusions are as follows:
“Results confirm the occurrence of rotavirus disease early in life and the continued high burden of gastroenteritis during the second year of life in Latin America. Two oral doses of RIX4414 given in early infancy showed good safety profile, were well tolerated, and provided sustained high protection against severe rotavirus gastroenteritis caused by a change in circulating rotavirus strains during the first 2 years of life when disease burden is highest. The importance of these results should not be underestimated because this study was done in developing countries from Latin America with challenging socioeconomic circumstances. Inclusion of this vaccine in routine paediatric immunisation schedules can be expected to greatly reduce the burden of rotavirus disease worldwide.”
Very good news indeed! Good water, sanitation and hygiene are, of course, excellent anti-gastroenteritis preventive measures but, with the painfully slow pace of sanitation provision in many developing countries, routine rotavirus vaccination is likely to save many lives in the short-to-medium term, so let’s hope it gets into widespread use very quickly.